As part of his mentoring me, Teddy Locsin once gave me a stack of books, including that famous work by Montesquieu known as The Spirit of the Laws. I was given the book in 1995, told to read it, and found it invaluable during the time of troubles of Joseph Estrada. The other day, spotting it on a shelf, I idly leafed through it and revisited the passages I’d underlined in the past. One of them provided the focus for my column today. Scorched Earth Governance.
My view is that the President is showing weak leadership, and that by nature she is a weak leader, though she likes to view herself as a strong one. Billy Esposo seems to be analyzing things and arriving at a similar conclusion. He says the priorities of the President are three:
1. Rally the morale of her troops in order to stop the erosion of her support base. By troops, I mean both the members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) who are still loyal to her as well as her political supporters. She knows only too well how disintegration of support had led to the fall of Marcos and Estrada. To survive the political jungle, one must keep oneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s support base intact Ã¢â‚¬â€œ let it crumble and you fall into the abyss.
2. Demoralize the forces of the opposition. By opposition, I do not just refer to the pathetic political opposition parties who lost the respect of the middle class when they rallied behind an unproven movie actor Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Fernando Poe, Jr. I refer to the public at large, the close to 80% who think that Ms Arroyo stole the 2004 elections and now want her to vacate the presidency.
3. Discourage key sectors and power players, notably the military, from challenging her continued stay in office. The AFP and the US are examples of power blocks who are supposed to be non-aligned in these political struggles. But as we saw with the 1986 People Power Revolt, both were key players that tilted the outcome in favor of Cory Aquino.
Here are three versions of the same event involving the fallout from the same controversial event: The Manila Standard-Today says the Palace is unapologetic about hosing-down protesters; the Philippine Daily Inquirer says a fight between the bishops and the President is brewing; the Manila Times takes a similar tack; and for opposite poles on the same issue, contrast the take of the Daily Tribune and that of Standard-Today columnist Jojo Robles to see how the same issue is handled by opposing camps. The Sun-Star reports that the Palace denies it’s making a list -or checking it twice- of journalists who have been naughty or nice.
The punditocracy today has Fr. Joaquin Bernas ruefully admitting that he and fellow Constitutional Commission delegates must have been napping when they retained a Marcos-era provision allowing the President to take over businesses (apropos of the ongoing debate about the scope of the President’s powers, PCIJ reproduces a helpful summary of the President’s emergency and other powers) ; apropos of the rallies, Conrado de Quiros takes aim at the President, asking where she was when people actually did something during Edsa 2; Random Jottings cheekily says the “wet look” is now a political statement. And there’s an amusing column by Efren Danao on the antics of congressmen and assemblymen.
In the blogosphere, there has been much rejoicing over the discovery that Jessica Zafra has a blog (hat tip to Jove). Newsstand takes a dim view of Teofisto Guingona III; Paeng took a dim view of his parish priest and walked out of mass when the priest began defending the government’s policy of calibrated, preemptive response during the sermon (my mother told me that on the other hand, in his TV mass, Bishop Teodoro Bacani took a dig at the government, while reflecting on the same Gospel text as the priest that offended Paeng); Edwin Lacierda takes a dim view of the government’s rally policy and suggests how it can be challenged in court; News Boy, after a long hiatus, takes a dim view of those who take a dim view of the loyalty of the military and most of all, who have a dim view of the Palace’s intentions; Go Figure examines why consumers seem to have so little power; Belmont Club as an interesting entry on the referendum to ratify the Iraqi Constitution; Newsroom Barkada notes the World Health Organization warns of a possible bird flu pandemic.
The blogger-analysist have meaty entries: Philippine Commentary believes that there are various forces that are in a position to exercise a sort of veto power over the President. He identifies the forces as: former president Fidel Ramos, the Catholic bishops, and… well, to be announced he says, hinting the other veto-holders are the Americans and the Philippine military. He predicts that the mailed fist having failed to a certain extent, the President will try to unleash yet another charm offensive. Ricky Carandang muses on the roots of the country’s problems, and decides it’s not poverty per se, but rather, a fundamental lack of trust, between sectors and the public and the government:
I believe that before we can talk about models for sustainable economic development, we must first build a just society that everyone can feel they have a stake in. Before we can seriously consider charter change we Filipinos must first prove that we can trust each other. Otherwise every ten year economic plan that any government thinks of will fail and every effort to revise the political system will be viewed by the people as yet another betrayal of their aspirations.
Finally, Torn & Frayed laments the impending debut of a musical on Imelda Marcos.